Board gets update on WVU's strategic plan, online learning environment; preview of 2014 budget in light of budget cuts
In the two years since adopting a new strategic plan, West Virginia University has made progress on each of the five goals, the University’s Board of Governors learned Friday, while also being briefed on the financial challenges the University faces as the result of mandated state budget cuts.
The 2020 Strategic Framework for the Future, which the Board adopted in February of 2011, contains five goals.
- Engage students in a challenging academic environment
- Excel in research and innovation in all disciplines
- Foster diversity and an inclusive culture
- Advance international activity and global engagement
- Enhance the well-being and quality of life of the people of West Virginia
“We are in the early phases, but I think progress has been excellent,” President Jim Clements said. “This is the effort of a lot of people, very passionate people.”
The University also has adopted three aspirations for 2020:
- To attain and maintain the highest Carnegie research ranking. WVU currently is listed as a Research University (High Research Activity) by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching – the second highest ranking – but has a goal of joining the 108 Very High Activity institutions.
- Double the number of nationally-ranked programs.
- Groom graduates to be among the nation’s leaders in career readiness.
Nigel Clark, associate vice president for academic strategic planning, said perhaps the most important outcome is how individual colleges and departments have instituted their own strategic planning as a result of the university-wide plan.
Tangible results from the plan and aspirations include:
- Creation of 145 faculty positions, including 61 at Health Sciences.
- Hiring Chief Diversity Officer David Fryson.
- Launch of a new School of Public Health.
- Expansion on the Evansdale campus.
- Establishment of the “Mountains of Excellence” initiative.
- Development of University College – a centralized support system/program to assist students who have not declared an academic major.
- Strengthening of the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute as the result of a nearly $20 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
While Clark noted that while WVU is “financially stable and positioned to implement its strategic plan and maintain operations,” there are financial issues ahead.
WVU and its divisional campuses – Potomac State College of West Virginia University in Keyser and West Virginia University Institute of Technology in Montgomery – face state budget cuts of some $13.3 million, or 8.9 percent, Vice President for Administration and Finance Narvel Weese told the Board.
Weese has noted that higher education is absorbing 45 percent, or $34.7 million, of the total proposed state budget reduction of $74.7 million.
With the cuts, state appropriations will make up only about 20 percent of WVU’s total budget, Weese said. That, plus a competitive enrollment environment and sequestration at the federal level, mean WVU is facing “the most challenging financial environment” in years.
“Given these shortfalls, we believe it is prudent to mitigate costs and explore new revenue ideas in order to provide as much flexibility as possible to units across campus,” he said. “We’ve also asked the leadership team across campus to deepen their commitment to fiscal prudence for the remainder of the fiscal year.”
That means, he said, considering only filling vacancies that meet the core mission of the college or division; carefully reviewing travel requests that meet program objectives; and reviewing major expenditures for equipment and supplies to assure they are essential in the delivery of core mission services.
Weese asked those with ideas to save costs or to generate revenue to share them at: http://planning.wvu.edu/treasury_operations/budget_suggestions.
As the Legislature finalizes the state budget (around April 20), WVU will be better able to take corrective actions and consider various financial scenarios to maintain the University’s stable financial position in fiscal year 2014, he said. Tuition increases, consistent with the financial plan adopted in June 2012, are being considered – but with the caveat that scholarships will also be increased at the same pace.
“The University is also considering tuition increases for undergraduate, graduate and professional students, all of whom may see slightly higher increases,” Weese said. “At this point, it’s difficult to finalize the University’s tuition strategy until the state budget process is concluded. However, any proposed increases will maintain our position as one of the lowest cost flagship universities in the country.”
And while the budget is being reduced, WVU must continue to invest in its 2020 Strategic Plan, academic program quality, master plan projects and other mission critical initiatives, he said.
However, with these circumstances, Weese said the institution is “unsure of our ability to provide a salary improvement program this year.”
The goals of maintaining positive operating margins, growing cash reserves, and preserving the bond credit rating throughout the implementation of the five-year financial plan will not be affected by the 2014 budget, he added.
“With careful financial planning, we believe we will get through the next academic year without diminishing the quality of the delivery of our core mission activities or the academic quality of the University,” Weese said.
The 2014 budget will be presented for approval at the June 6 Board meeting, to be held at WVU Tech
At a time when government support of education, both federal and state is decreasing, Clements noted that funding of sponsored programs reached $100 million through the end of March, about $11.4 million ahead of same time last year.
He also noted that private fund-raising is up almost $1.5 million from the same time last year.
Clements also introduced Rachel James, a civil engineering major from Lewis County, who has been named WVU’s 36th Goldwater Scholar.
Weese reported on the University’s capital projects, noting that those plans have been refined and costs have changed – both up and down – since particular projects were approved.
“WVU intends to manage these projects as a portfolio and proceed with projects as long as funds are identified to support any budget increases,” he said. “Budget savings on one project may be used to offset budget increases in another project.”
He noted that the Board will receive a report on the status of the projects at each meeting.
The Board also was briefed on the future of educational systems, especially the growth of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. WVU has created an Educational Responsibility Roundtable to address changing curriculum and educational practice.
The nine-member group is charged with determining WVU’s future educational role. It will identify cultural and structural changes and resources needed and make recommendations for a five-year plan to the Faculty Senate and administration.
Clark said the outcome will “foster the successful online education already developed at WVU,” and “graduate scholars with high competency and skills for career success through innovative residential education.”
Sue Day-Perroots, dean of Extended Learning, discussed how online learning had grown at WVU since 1995 to incorporate the latest in educational trends, including MOOCs. She noted that about 1,700 residential students currently also take online courses.
“We need to look online as a means to fulfill our access mission,” she said.
Board Member Charles Vest, president emeritus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and president of the National Academy of Engineering, lauded the University for its approach to online learning.
“You have been very specific, but you’ve also been careful to build on an obviously deep knowledge base,” said Vest, who participated by telephone.
“There are two questions to keep in mind: Can you improve learning? Can you realize cost savings, and how does the university allocate those funds?”
He said many universities across the country are failing at using any funds saved in appropriate ways.
Also Friday, the Board approved a new graduate certificate program in applied biostatistics at the School of Public Health, specific to researchers in medical and public health settings, and amendments to three policies governing student rights and responsibilities, academic rights and the student disciplinary process. The revisions are part of the University’s ongoing efforts to insure its student conduct and academic rights and responsibilities processes are efficient and reflect the current culture and structure of the University and its divisional campuses.
The board also formed a nominating committee of Ellen Cappellanti, chair; Leslie Cottrell, faculty representative; William Wilmouth; and Ed Robinson, who represents WVU Tech. The committee will nominate officers, who will be elected at the June meeting.
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